Charlotte:Juan Pablo Montoya capped his first full season in American stock-car racing with a quiet 15th-place run at Homestead-Miami Speedway.
The finish locked up rookie of the year honors in the top tier of the National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) circuit for the former Formula One driver and Indianapolis 500 winner, and secured him 20th-place in the final season standings.
More important, it closed out one of the most fulfilling years of the Colombian's life.
From the time he stunned Formula One last summer by signing with Chip Ganassi Racing for a career in American stock cars, Montoya has never looked back and never doubted his decision.
He won a second-tier Busch Series race in Mexico and the top-tier Nextel Cup event at Sonoma, butted heads with other drivers and settled nicely into the NASCAR community.
"I really do feel part of the community," he said. "I really like to embrace the entire experience because it's so cool. It's so different from any other series I've ever been in, but it's so cool and something I tell people you've got to come and see for yourself.
"You see those ads, `People say NASCAR is not a sport. It's a way of life.' Those ads are right. We spend 40 weeks of the year with the same people around, and you just build up really great relationships along the way."
On the track, Montoya believes he's gotten the hang of stock cars despite the ups and downs of adjusting to the full cars and the give-and-take mentality of NASCAR racing.
"We had a bit of everything," he said. "It was up and down. I think, more important, is how the performance of the team came up through the whole year. Where we started and where we finished is a big difference."
Although his success came on road courses, he's improved on ovals and said the circular tracks were his biggest adjustment.
Although he raced in CART before F1, Montoya estimated he'd been on just 10 to 15 ovals before this season.
"Getting back to the ovals, back into the big car, big horsepower, very little grip, I'll tell you, it's a handful," he said.
Aside from performance, Montoya settled into the motorhome community and made his share of friends.
It showed at his benefit last Thursday night in Miami, where the NASCAR community was well represented among the 600 guests at a gala to raise money for issues troubling his native Colombia.
Montoya and his wife, Connie, estimate they raised $1 million (euro680,000) at the event, which was attended by NASCAR chairman Brian France, Nextel Cup champion Jimmie Johnson and a slew of other drivers.
"It was amazing all the people who showed up," he said. "The Pettys, my teammates, you name it. It just meant a lot for them to come and support it, and it really shows what NASCAR is all about. I think in Formula One, you couldn't ever do something like that."